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Visegrad view

The man behind one of the most popular pro-Israel social media feeds 

Stefan Tompson runs Visegrad24 out of Poland, producing a steady stream of pro-Israel and pro-Ukraine aggregation

Leydo Film

Stefan Tompson

Users of X (formerly Twitter) who follow news from Israel may have noticed an account called Visegrad24 frequently popping up on their feeds in recent months with headlines and videos about the war between the Jewish state and Hamas.

Tweeting a dozen or more times per day, Visegrad24 can go from posting videos of the IDF dropping leaflets over Gaza, to marking the death of “one of the bloodiest mass-murderers in history…dictator and…psychopath” Vladimir Lenin, to noting that Miss America 2024 is an active-duty U.S. Air Force servicemember.

The mysterious account, which shares its name with a grouping of central European countries and was named for a Medieval gathering of kings from the region, has over 900,000 followers on X and its founders report over 3 billion impressions since the war began. It once described itself as “aggregating and curating news, politics and current affairs from Central and Eastern Europe,” with emojis of all the Visegrad states. It gained international prominence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but its rise has been even more meteoric since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers and leading the account to drop its region of origin from its bio.

Visegrad24 is one of the “new elites” on X influencing the discourse on the war, according to an October 2023 report by the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public. The study named it in the top news-focused account in views of tweets, surpassing traditional news outlets like CNN and The New York Times.

As a result, questions are now emerging about the people and ideas behind the account. “Propaganda or aspiring news outlet?” one article asked. The Marker, Ha’aretz‘s Hebrew-language business paper, said Visegrad24 “spreads a blatant pro-Israel and pro-Ukraine narrative, including through fake news,” written by “a pair of Polish right-wing extremists who take an Islamophobic and Xenophobic line.” Polish sites have speculated about ties between Visegrad24 and Poland’s recently voted-out right-wing government, whose ministers frequently cited and praised the account.

One of the men behind Visegrad24, Stefan Tompson, 30, stepped out from the shadows and gave Jewish Insider a rare interview this month in which he pushed back against the accusations. Tompson discussed the mission of his social media operation, his support for Israel and how it fits with his Polish patriotism, and his view of the West as a civilization under threat.

The operation is funded by the Tompson brothers’ PR firm and uses its staff. They make some money from X subscriptions, but “it doesn’t keep the lights on,” Tompson said. They also recently registered as a 501(c)3 in the U.S., in order to receive donations. Tompson denied reports that he is funded by the Polish government, saying that he applied for a grant, but was rejected.

Tompson spoke during a visit to Tel Aviv this month to create content in support of Israel, his second-ever visit to the Jewish state after a prior Catholic pilgrimage. In addition to visiting sites of the Oct. 7 massacre and Hostages Square, Tompson and his team set up a studio in his hotel on the shore of the Mediterranean to interview survivors of the Nova Party massacre, Holocaust survivors, politicians, activists, singer Matisyahu and more. His team has also traveled to Ramallah and Jerusalem to film content and conduct interviews.

“I’m not as interested in the war as I am in showing what this country is,” Tompson said. “I don’t think the war is this country…Israel presents itself through the wrong lens. It has to present itself as strong because it’s surrounded by states that don’t wish it well – but Europe, the U.S., especially the left, look at the world through a different lens and judge the world by their own metrics.”

According to Tompson, “the European and American left don’t understand things that are self-evident to Israelis, that you can wake up at night with a siren because someone is bombing you. If that surprises me, imagine how much more surprising it is to someone who knows nothing about this country.”

“That’s the mission we have right now, to show Israeli society and people as they are, and tell the story of resilience here,” he added.

Tompson’s lens is that of a conservative and self-described “Polish patriot.” He grew up in London and the south of France in a Polish emigre family – his great-grandfather left in 1933 – and made “my own version of aliyah,” he said, returning to his family’s country of origin as an adult.

He’s very bullish on the country, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, due to a “great energy” he says Poland and Israel share, “a sense that millennials and Gen Z will do better than their parents and grandparents. That’s not the same as the West.”

“My generation is the first in 300 years of Polish history to inherit anything at all…It’s a massive transformation of society,” after centuries of foreign conquerors and communism, he said. 

Israel and Poland have also resisted the “aetheization” of Western society, Tompson said, noting that many ostensibly secular Poles are “culturally Catholic,” which he compared to secular Israeli Jews having a Friday night Shabbat meal with family.

In Israel, he said “even when there is mockery of Haredim, there is an understanding that without faith, there probably wouldn’t be Jews. It’s the same in Poland; without the role of the Catholic Church, there probably wouldn’t be an independent Poland today.” 

The idea for Visegrad24 stemmed from a frustration with major media outlets’ coverage of Poland, especially relating to migration to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan and other war zones. 

Tompson and his brother, who run the Visegrad24 accounts together as well as a Warsaw public relations firm, felt that the only Polish perspectives being represented in outlets like the BBC or Reuters were those of people to their left. He specifically mentioned The Atlantic’s Anne Appelbaum, a frequent target of the Polish right for her argument that their government undermined democracy.

Visegrad24’s first big news story came in 2021, when tens of thousands of migrants attempted to enter Poland from Belarus, viewed in the West as an intentional attack on the EU’s borders. Members of the military and police and even migrants themselves sent Visegrad24 footage of the scene, which the site posted.

“Left-wing Polish journalists were saying the government is inhumane for not letting [migrants] in, and I said, South Sudanese people coming in from Belarus obviously doesn’t make sense,” Tompson said. “I empathized with these people…They were misled and I hope they’re OK, but do I want them in the EU? No.”

He pushed back against the charge that Visegrad24 is xenophobic or Islamophobic, explaining that “we are staunchly anti-migration. We are opposed to illegal migration and mass migration.” 

“It’s not a position I feel I have to defend,” he added. “It’s a legitimate view…Israel’s border is not open for anyone to come in, and I feel the same about Europe and the U.S.”

Tompson argues that he and Visegrad24 are “very cautious not to insult Islam,” and that he has “nothing but respect for [Muslims’] level of belief and faith… People who mock Muslims and talk about covering bullets in pig fat – I don’t respect that and I don’t like that.” At the same time, he said, “When the Houthis call for the destruction of Israel and curse all the Jews, I don’t think it’s Islamophobic to criticize that.” 

Visegrad24 was not founded to be a news organization, Tompson said: “I don’t call myself a journalist. I’m a PR expert.” After its initial mission “to provide an alternative point of view on Poland,” it expanded to supporting Ukraine and fighting against Russian propaganda.

Israel fits into the Visegrad24 view because it is “part of a bigger story. We are at war against a Chinese-Russian-Persian-North Korean axis. In that sense, it is incredibly relevant to us in Poland and in the EU…This is not just a war against Israel and against Jews. This is a civilizational war, in which we are next. To not take a stand for Israel means to not take a stand for the West. It’s like that famous poem, first they came for the communists, but I’m not a communist.” 

“When I see cities I grew up in, especially London, hundreds of thousands of people marching with Palestinian flags, it’s like [the] enemy being within,” Tompson added.

Tompson’s pro-Israel stance has come at a great personal cost, he said, particularly as a father to a baby as he has received death threats to his home as well as his office.

He also said that, thanks to his focus on Israel, he’s grateful to have met people who don’t share his political views. The fact that he agreed to the interview is a kind of a testament to that, since Tompson and this reporter once sparred on X over the Polish law against accusing Poland of complicity in crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. (Tompson has since been unblocked.)

On that matter, he called on Jews to show more sympathy for Polish suffering under German occupation, though he said he understands why it’s “an irreconcilable narrative” for Jews, who “feel that they had been in Poland for 1,000 years and there was a sense of betrayal by the Poles.

“Obviously, Jews suffered more, but Jews forget that being a Slav in German-occupied Poland was no fun,” he said.

More broadly, Tompson said, posting about Israel meant he came in contact with “people across the political divide who I never would have spoken to. I remain a conservative, but I also have a better understanding of…American Jews who have been involved in left-leaning social causes.” 

Tompson said that some conservatives criticize Jewish community advocacy for migrants, because “Israel has beautiful closed borders and we would like them ourselves,” but he now understands that Jews take that position “as a minority themselves.” He also noted that he met Jews who have grown more conservative since the Oct. 7 attack and say “‘These people we helped want to kill us. We stood up for Black Lives Matter and now they’re shouting about global capitalism and Israel.’ I’ve had a lot of conversations about that.”

As for the reactions in Poland to his pro-Israel message, after years of diplomatic tensions between the countries that were resolved – at least officially – in early 2023, Tompson argued that Polish society is sympathetic to Israel.

“A lot of people who are in the [Polish] tech industry are very aware of what’s happening [in Israel],” he said.

He also said he was “excited” that Israeli politicians have asked for his help arranging meetings in Warsaw, and that he wants “World War II not to be an issue” dividing the countries.

Tompson promised that he will continue to talk about Israel in the long run: “If people are wondering whether the interest will stop when the war stops, the answer is no. I am very keen to bring back to Europe what I have seen and learned from Israel.”

“The incredible attachment to your culture and respect for religion that is lost in the West…The knowledge that if you don’t maintain your history you disappear. I look at this country and see babies everywhere, including in liberal Tel Aviv, and I have great respect, even envy. These are things that I see, respect and admire in Israel and would like to see them revived in the Western world.”

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